- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 23, 2005

President Bush yesterday rejected calls for a pullout from Iraq, saying that a “policy of retreat” would dishonor the U.S. troops who have fallen there. He likened them to the heroes of World War II.

Mr. Bush implored Americans “not to lose our nerve.” For the first time, he publicly tallied up U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We have lost 1,864 members of our armed forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom and 223 in Operation Enduring Freedom,” he told the national convention of Veterans of Foreign Wars in Salt Lake City.

“Each of these men and women left grieving families and loved ones back home,” he said. “We owe them something. We will finish the task that they gave their lives for.”

The president’s pointed remarks came after weeks of anti-war demonstrations by critics who have rallied around Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq last year. About 50 protesters demonstrated outside the hall where Mr. Bush spoke yesterday.

Mr. Bush warned that many terrorism-sponsoring regimes would emerge should insurgents in Iraq succeed.

“Their goal is to drive nations into retreat so they can topple governments across the Middle East, establish Taliban-like regimes, and turn that region into a launching pad for more attacks against our people,” he said.

“Our enemies are trying to intimidate America and the free world. They will fail.”

The president implicitly responded to Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat, who last week called for U.S. forces to be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of next year.

“A policy of retreat and isolation will not bring us safety,” Mr. Bush said. “The only way to defend our citizens where we live is to go after the terrorists where they live. When Iraqi forces can defend their freedom by taking on more and more of the fight to the enemy, our troops will come home with the honor they have earned.”

Mr. Feingold, who is considering a run for the White House in 2008, yesterday called Mr. Bush’s speech “more of the same sloganeering.”

“The president seems to think that we are on the right track, and that we should simply ‘stay the course.’ But breaking the all-volunteer Army and continuing to pour a billion dollars a week into Iraq for an indefinite period of time is not the way to win the fight against terrorism.”

Speaking just hours before the deadline for Iraqis to draft a new constitution, Mr. Bush likened the drafters to America’s Founding Fathers.

“Iraq’s leaders are once again defying the terrorists and pessimists by completing work on a democratic constitution,” he said. “The establishment of a democratic constitution will be a landmark event in the history of Iraq and the history of the Middle East.”

In his first public appearance in 11 days, Mr. Bush praised Israel for withdrawing Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip and part of the West Bank. He called the pullback “a courageous and painful step” in the peace process.

“In the heart of the Middle East, a hopeful story is unfolding,” he said. “After decades of shattered promises and stolen lives, peace is within reach in the Holy Land.”

Mr. Bush compared U.S. troops in the war against terror to the heroes of 20th-century conflicts. “From the beaches of Normandy to the snows of Korea, courageous Americans gave their lives so others could live in freedom,” he said. “We defeated fascism; we defeated communism; and we will defeat the hateful ideology of the terrorists who attacked America.”

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